Why “Soul” Is Good For Your Soul
Except for me, it wasn’t, at first.
The first time I watched Soul, I didn’t like it. I didn’t really dislike it, either, but it was just very okay to me. I didn’t understand what the hype was, or why it was so highly rated. I thought it was kind of weird, I didn’t like the characters, and the whole before-and-after-life set-up they had going on wasn’t really doing it for me.
But the second time I watched it, I loved it. How could I have missed it all the first time around? It just hit totally different the second time.
So, I’m going to tell you why it’s so amazing and why you should watch it (or rewatch it)! Also, here is your OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING.
In case you haven’t seen Soul (which if you’re reading this I hope you have because, again, spoilers), it is about a guy named Joe Gardner trying to make it as a jazz musician, who is currently unsatisfied with his band teaching job. After landing a huge gig, he dies — well, not really, because his body is alive and in a coma, but his soul goes to the Great Beyond, so, essentially, dead.
Not ready to be dead, he tries to escape and lands in the Great Before, where souls exist before they head to Earth. There, he meets 22, a soul that has never been able to complete their Earth sticker and be born as a living person. They have to work together in order for Joe to get back to his life. Hijinks ensue, 22 ends up getting put into Joe’s body, and they have to continue working together to get Joe back in his body and 22 back to the Great Before.
Now that you’re all caught up, here we go!
Soul is one of the few Pixar movies without a villain, which allows it to focus on the message of the story, along with characters and their development through the film (Even if you count Terry, the existential soul counter, as a villain, they were really only a small part of the movie, and they were just doing their job and didn’t really do anything to be antagonistic on purpose).
For most of the movie, I thought Joe was a terrible main character. He only cared about himself; even when he did something “nice,” it was only to benefit himself. Originally, he didn’t actually care about 22, he just wanted them to find their “spark” – assumed to be their reason for living – so he could use their completed Earth sticker for his own gain. He was so unsatisfied with his life, that it caused him to be blinded by what he thought would make him happy.
On the other hand, we have 22, who is utterly uninterested in what life has to offer and is convinced they wouldn’t like being alive. Joe tries to convince them of all the good things Earth has in store for them (again, for his own benefit, because if 22 wants to live they’ll try harder to get their Earth sticker), but nothing really sounds that appealing. 22 asks, “Is all this living really worth dying for?” It’s a fair question. Is all the hardship we face, all the struggle we go through, really worth it? Is existing worth the effort? It is only when 22 experiences these things for themselves that they see that maybe there is something to this whole living thing.
22 feels very relatable to me. They can’t seem to find that certain something that they really enjoy in life. 22 has no spark, and not having a spark is part of what makes them not want to try out living. What’s the point of living if you have no spark? If you don’t have a spark, then what even is your purpose?
And that’s where the message of the movie comes in. Pixar movies always carry a heavy, emotional message that can sometimes make them seem like they’re too sad to be “kids’ movies.” However, I think Soul has an absolutely perfect message for both adults and children:
Life isn’t about fulfilling some great purpose bestowed upon you by the universe, it’s about living. It’s about enjoying being alive and finding things that make you enjoy the wonder of the world.
This spark that 22 is searching for isn’t found by eons of trying out soccer or painting, it is only found when they go out and live for themselves. They try delicious food, see the sky, feel the breeze, so many little things that seem so insignificant in our daily lives but are actually essential to the enjoyment of life. At first, all the sights and sounds are overwhelming to 22 and they despise living. It is in the quiet moments, like when they catch a helicopter leaf falling from a tree, that they gain the desire to live.
Part of what I like about the ending of Soul is that we don’t get to know what filled in the last spot on 22’s Earth sticker. Not even 22 knows. And it doesn’t bug me not to know, because it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that 22 wanted to live. Why is it important what the spark is? They’ll find out eventually. What was really important was that 22 possessed a new-found zest for life that wasn’t there before.
As for Joe, he becomes a good guy. Did it take the entire movie? Yes. But it happened eventually. Honestly, it was never that Joe was a bad guy, he was just so wrapped up in himself and achieving what he thought was his true purpose, that it overshadowed every other aspect of his life. Joe was so obsessed in getting the thing he thought would make him happy, that he didn’t try to be happy in other fields of his existence.
It is only after he gets what he thought he wanted, that he realized he was still unfulfilled. And that’s because he was convinced this thing he sought after was his only purpose for existing, when really it was just his spark that is supposed to be something you enjoy in life, not your overall purpose.
It was only after Joe saw 22 live his life, that he discovered what he should be doing with his. 22 was an inspiration to Joe to appreciate the small things in life, and see the beauty that he was too blinded to notice before. It took a pair of fresh eyes to see what he’d been missing in his life.
Joe became truly good with his ultimate sacrifice. Joe was entirely consumed with getting back to his life throughout the entire movie, his empty, sad life; but after seeing 22 live so fully in just one short day, he realized the things he thought were important weren’t really what life was about. He was willing to sacrifice his own life to give 22 a shot at experiencing it for themselves.
In a world where life is all about gaining, in our society where “the grind never stops”, it’s important to take time to focus on the little things, like 22 did. Catch a falling leaf, enjoy a slice of New York pizza, watch the clouds go by. Do your best to find happiness in the small things, the things that you’d miss if it disappeared forever. Like rainbows, and stars, and a piece of candy. Just try to enjoy it to the fullest.
Funnily enough, the reason I didn’t like Soul the first time was because I simply wasn’t paying much attention. Of course, that’s enough to make any movie confusing and unenjoyable. I missed all the subtle beauty of the movie; the wonderful message it conveyed was completely lost to me. Much like Joe, I was too distracted to see the little things. These little things, these little scenes and moments I had missed the first time, were what made the movie so amazing.
The movie ends on a such a beautiful line. “I’m going to live every minute of it.” That’s what we should all do. Because that’s what life is all about, that’s our great purpose: